Most people recognize chickens on sight. They know females are called hens, males are roosters, and Americans eat both a lot of chicken meat and eggs every year.
We are so divorced from our food, though, that many people don’t know about the wide range of chickens available. You might think a chicken is a chicken is a chicken, but that’s where you’d be wrong.
While just about any chicken will, at some point, lay eggs, and can be eaten, there are separate, purpose-bred varieties for eggs and meat. Some of the best egg-layers are lean, mean, egg-laying machines and can lay up to 350 eggs in a year.
Egg-laying chickens aren’t at the peak of productivity their entire lives, and after 6 or so years their production slows down. Even six years is far better than what meat chickens face.
Cornish or Cornish crosses are the most commonly raised breed in the meat industry, and most American meat producers prefer chickens with white feathers so the birds look cleaner when dressed. A meat chicken has one purpose in life: to live 9 weeks, and then become dinner.
They have been specifically bred to gain weight fast and are 8-10 pounds by the time they hit a mere 9 weeks. Because they’ve been bred to live such a short time and gain mass so quickly, they don’t tend to live long even in the most ideal situations.
They eat. And eat. And eat. They don’t stop eating, and they don’t stop gaining weight, until their frame literally cannot support them anymore. It’s a terrible fate to face, though some pet owners have managed to get their birds to several years of age with strict diet and exercise.
Oliver and Friends Rescue and Sanctuary in Luther, Oklahoma, recently rescued over 20 of these kinds of chickens from a “defunct factory farm,” according to KFOR. The farm had around 13,000 displaced chickens, all sitting around waiting for help.
“Luvin Arms,” an animal sanctuary in Colorado, got in touch with Oliver and Friends, and they ended up taking in some of the abandoned birds. They have a long road ahead of them to keep the chickens healthy, though, and one chicken named Colorado is already experiencing the effects of her skyrocketing weight gain.
“Why is Colorado being fitted for a wheelchair you may ask?” the rescue posted on March 14. “Colorado is one of the hens from the defunct factory farm in Colorado. We rescued many from a terrible life, but being Cornish hens they are all genetically modified to grow so so fast and so large that their legs cannot support them for long.”
“Colorado is the first of our rescues that has recently started displaying the signs that her own body is crushing itself. Her legs can no longer support her.”
“Most Cornish hens are already slaughtered by this age for human consumption. They grow so fast to meet the supply of chicken consumers. It’s a horrible life at the farms and horribly unnatural for the animal that was once a chicken.”
Colorado has a wheelchair to keep her as active as possible, and the sanctuary is doing all they can to keep their new charges active and on a healthy diet of greens and low-fat food.
The sanctuary got some notice when they took in Milo, a beagle puppy born with his front paws upside-down. But Jennie Hays, with the rescue, said that people tend to understand puppy rescues more than chicken ones.
“We saved a puppy, and we were heroes,” Hays told KFOR. “We save a chicken, and maybe people think that we’re nuts. But, that’s okay.”
She added that “ever since she (Colorado) got the wheelchair, her sparkle’s back.”
“We honestly believe here at Oliver and Friends that every animal deserves the chance to live their best life as pain-free as possible,” she said.
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